This was not supposed to be a 16 Conclusions game. The decision was made only after I changed my mind seven times about what I should write about. Faced with the decision between discarding seven ideas or thinking of another eight, I chose 16 Conclusions. It does mean that they are bloody short conclusions, mind.
* “It’s no good if you always need three goals to win,” said Slaven Bilic last week. You know what’s worse than needing three goals to win a game? Needing three goals to draw a game, that’s what. And that pretty much sums up why Arsenal are out of the title race and West Ham are highly unlikely to claim a Champions League place. The teams with the two dodgiest defences in the top six are fun but so very flawed.
* You can talk about mathematics, you can talk about things not being over until the fat lady sings, you can talk about the potential of Leicester doing a Devon Loch, but you can also say quite unequivocally that Arsenal will not win the Premier League title. It’s done. It’s over. It was lost in four winless games in the new year when they dropped from first to fourth. It was lost in London derbies when they contrived not to beat Tottenham, West Ham or even a woeful Chelsea. Inexcusable.
* You could say it was lost in the summer when they chose not to buy an outfield player but I believe the sin of January was greater. By that juncture it was clear that the title was within Arsenal’s grasp if only they would strengthen. Had they gone to Everton and offered significant – some might say silly – money for Romelu Lukaku, they would have won the title. Now that’s what I call a conclusion.
* First one BT pundit said that the key to West Ham’s clash with Arsenal was how the Gunners’ centre-halves coped against Andy Carroll and then another more or less said “yep, what he said”. At the time I cursed Ian Wright and his lack of imagination but at half-time the realisation struck that pretty much nothing else mattered. Forget formations, forget tactics, forget subtleties, this was all about how those centre-halves coped; they didn’t.
* One quick pre-match bugbear to get out of the way: The gifs of ‘OMG’ faces at the news that David Ospina was playing instead of Petr Cech. I am bored of saying this – so regulars really must be bored of reading it – but the Premier League’s richest, most powerful clubs do not have clowns for back-up keepers. It is incredibly disrespectful and really very dull to suggest otherwise (unless it’s Adam Bogdan).
* The easy conclusion to make is that this was Arsenal’s season – nay Arsenal’s last TEN seasons – in 90-minute microcosm. Moments of astonishing attacking play, passages of excellent, incisive possession, an absolute clusterf*** in defence. There was even a mini-collapse and a display of mental strength tossed in for good measure. Bravo. It’s almost like performance art.
* West Ham had a completely legitimate goal ruled out for offside. Does this mean that there is a conspiracy against the Hammers? Does it bollocks; it means a man made a mistake. Does this mean West Ham would have won the game 4-3? If you think that, just leave now: you don’t deserve to read the rest of these hurriedly written, ill-thought-out conclusions.
* At one point I was cursing the fact that Matt Stead had written about Alex Iwobi last week as he was astonishing good in the opening 20 minutes. Despite nominally playing wide left, he had touched the ball more times than anybody else on the pitch – part in thanks to Slaven Bilic’s ill-conceived initial formation but largely because he is really very good. Physicality, movement, vision, finishing. Is there anything he can’t do? It’s certainly tempting to think he would have done a better job than Gabriel up against Andy Carroll.
* Mesut Ozil scored his third goal of 2016 from 15 shots in 12 Premier League games. It sounds a little glib but he really should shoot more than his 1.3 attempts per game, though possibly not as much as Alexis Sanchez with his rather selfish 3.7. Iwobi’s creativity may just help Ozil to believe that somebody else at Arsenal is capable of making the kind of through balls that make a run beyond the striker worthwhile.
* Oh Alexis. The finish for the goal was lovely and everything, but what happened to the streetfighter who would race back 60 yards to make a tackle by his own byline? Is he just knackered? Not tracking your opposing wing-back is only remotely forgivable if you are contributing so much in possession that you are worth special dispensation. Joel Campbell would have tracked in that position. Danny Welbeck would have tracked in that position. And neither would have lost the ball with such alarming regularity.
* Oh Slaven. He was rescued by Carroll – who was excellent barring his early, vengeful challenge on Koscielny – but his first-half tactics did not merit that 2-2 half-time scoreline. The gap between James Tomkins and Michail Antonio was ripe for exploitation and Arsenal twice took advantage. Too easy. And the gap between West Ham’s central midfield and central defence was suicidal. Arsenal love to bathe in space, glorious space and West Ham left the taps on.
* As ridiculous as it was that West Ham afforded Arsenal space 30 yards from goal, it was equally ludicrous that the Gunners had failed to notice that Carroll’s almost decade-long professional career is marked by two outstanding traits: The isolation of the full-back in a mismatched aerial contest and acrobatic brilliance when given space in the penalty area. Arsenal simply allowed him to do both. Does the blame lie with the manager or the players? Let’s apportion a fat wedge to both.
* A quick detour to Arsenal’s central midfield now. Wenger said this week that Mo Elneny and Francis Coquelin work as a pair because they are more similar than his other options. It sounds like curious logic until you watch them closely in action – with neither shackled by solo defensive responsibilities, they are both free to drive, to probe, to burst forward. Neither was culpable in Arsenal’s collapse at Upton Park and both deserved credit for their part in the Gunners’ surge into a 2-0 lead. If that sounds an odd situation for a pair of defensive midfielders, you have not watched too many Arsenal games.
* Back to Carroll and inevitable calls for an England recall. I have written many thousands of words about the compositions of England squads and have many times – to some derision – suggested that Carroll is only ever a run of games and goals away from that SMS from the FA. Being a successful and useful England striker is not simply about being amongst the top scorers in the Premier League (just ask Andy Cole, Ian Wright, Les Ferdinand, Kevin Phillips) but about offering a USP at international level, be that pace, physicality or another indefinable quality. Emile Heskey was useful. Darius Vassell was useful. Andy Carroll could be useful. If it’s a choice between Fabian Delph and Carroll for that 23rd squad place, personally I would take the man who can win you a match.
* After a week of fuss about his free-kicks, it was the quick, moving feet of Dimitri Payet that impressed us once again. There’s something endearing about the slightly chubby footballer with feet quicker than his legs will ever go. In the absence of Santi Cazorla, watching Payet was simply lovely. As Arsenal and West Ham fans duelled with songs about Ozil and Payet, as a neutral I am rather glad that we have them both.
* This week we have watched vibrant Manchester City and Liverpool teams potentially scupper European hopes with their defensive frailties, so it seems apt that the weekend’s Premier League football begins with a 3-3 that was tremendous fun but ultimately pointless. Is this our lot? Are we alright with that? Shall we have a referendum?